Ziad Abu Zayyad
Al-Quds (Opinion)
February 7, 2010 - 1:00am

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s speech before the Herzliya Conference was met with mixed reactions among Palestinians. The comments that circulated on the Internet and in blogs were predominantly negative to the extent that one commentator wrote saying that Fayyad is collaborating in the laying down of Israeli security policy.

I saw fit to pause at this event because it is not confined to Fayyad’s speech, but goes beyond and touches on the principle of Palestinians appearing in forums of the other party, or together with the other party in forums of a third side, in order to put forward the Palestinian point of view and to convey it to others.

The Herzliya Conference proceeds from a study center established several years ago by Uzi Arad, a former Mossad member and the coordinator of operations in Europe. Today, he is the president of Israel’s National Security Council and one of the closest advisors and mentors to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Uzi Arad is not a peace dove. He is one of the ideological hawks, which explains his relationship with Netanyahu and his friend, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, formerly chairman of the committee on foreign affairs and security in the Israeli Knesset.

Herzliya Center was turned into a forum for Israeli leaders to present their policies and positions. The message they want to convey can be addressed equally to Israeli public opinion or to regional or international public opinion. And this is what they do every year.

The conference is attended by Israeli academic and security elites. As mentioned, this is not a venue for the development of plans, programs and strategies, but rather a platform where these can be presented.

It is not the first time that a Palestinian appears before this forum. Among Fayyad’s predecessors were Yasser Abed Rabbo, member of the PLO Executive Committee who appeared together with Yossi Beilin to talk about the Geneva Initiative and its achievements. An Israeli source assured me that the Geneva Initiative has paid a respectable sum to the Israeli center to enable Abed Rabbo and Beilin to appear there in and to submit the Geneva Initiative to the attendance. It is my estimation that no other Israeli has paid to appear before this conference and I do not think Fayyad has either. Fayyad’s asset was the network of international relations he has succeeded to form and the respect he has managed to forge for himself as a man who prefers action over rhetoric.

What did Fayyad do?

He stood before confirmed Israeli hawks and right-wingers to tell them to their face and without beating about the bush that the occupation has to end and Israel, if it wanted to have peace and security, would have to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories and that the Palestinian people will not give up their option, which is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem its capital.

Such talk is not pleasing to the Israeli Right, not even to some on the Israeli side who extol peace and who surmise it can be reached through the Palestinian people surrendering and yielding to Israeli pressure and their acceptance of a truncated state in parts of the West bank, without Jerusalem and without sovereignty and control over its borders.

It was of the utmost importance that a self-respecting Palestinian leader, and who commands respect, to tell the Israelis to their face and without equivocation what the Palestinian demands are and what the mainstays are for the achievement of a just peace.

The Israelis have always professed a policy of skepticism with respect to the Palestinian leaderships, accusing them of saying in public the opposite of what they say in secret. It was important for Fayyad to stand before this Israeli forum — no friend of the Palestinian people — and to spell out the Palestinian position and plan of action and to caution about the consequences if Israel continued to avoid recognizing the time has come for the implementation of peace, which it will have to endorse sooner or later. And there is no doubt that many did not appreciate or enjoy what they heard.

Among those who listened to the speech in Herzliya were people who had never talked to a Palestinian and who had never allowed themselves to hear what the Palestinians had to say. Fayyad went to say to them with courage, sincerity and self-confidence what he wants and what his people want.

We can but thank Salam Fayyad for what he did and shake his hands.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017